As a thirty something year old from Cardiff, I had always considered myself well-travelled visiting popular tourist destinations around the UK, Europe and America. That was until I started working in ‘The Valleys’. (Everything outside of Cardiff is The Valley’s, right?!) Two years ago I joined the team at Bryn Meadows Golf Hotel & Spa, a luxurious 4* star resort in Ystrad Mynach, 10 minutes from Caerphilly town centre.
I had not heard of the resort until I had seen the advertised job role, for Sales & Marketing Assistant Manager. The advert really hooked me in, how could I not have heard of a resort only 30 minutes from home? It is an award winning, family owned company, and is one of the leading destinations for spa and golf breaks in Wales. The resort is extremely busy all year round, with the hotel running at 92% occupancy, Fusion Spa can be fully booked up to 6 weeks in advance, as well as sell out events and 70 plus weddings a year. Every morning on my drive into work I am astounded by the breath-taking views over the surrounding countryside, and from my office window I can even see the peake of Pen-Y-Fan.
As part of my role I work closely with Visit Caerphilly, and I couldn’t believe the number of tourist destinations or venues so close to home. I’d only ever visited the castle, and this was my perception of Caerphilly. In my naivety, I thought this was the entire area. Other towns in the borough include Bedwas, Risca, Ystrad Mynach, Newbridge, Blackwood, Bargoed, New Tredegar and Rhymney.
Caerphilly is famous for lending its name to the popular cheese, which is thought to have been created to provide food to the local coal miners. Production died out after World War II with mass production being moved to Somerset and Whiltshire, however over the last 20 years or so local producers have starting to supply this again. During the 1700’s Caerphilly began to grow into a market town as the south wales Valleys underwent massive growth through industrialisation. The coal industry to this day still marks the landscape, and evidence of this can be found throughout. Landmarks aren’t the only ones putting Caerphilly on the map; more recently comedian and magician Tommy Cooper, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, ITV’s This Morning Presenter Matt Johnson and Cardiff City and Wales footballer Robert Earnshaw lived in the borough following his family’s move from Zambia.
There are lots of independent retailers too including lots of restaurants, pubs and cafes. There are very few large chains, so it’s safe to assume that you are supporting local businesses. Also prices tend to reflect a more rural setting, rather than the big city prices which is always a plus. Keen to explore some of the locations here’s a list of some of the places I have managed to visit so far:
1. Caerphilly Castle
The impressive castle is Wales’ largest and Britain’s second largest castle behind Windsor. Most summers I have attended the Big Cheese, the annual festival with entertainment, music, plus a host of food and drink stalls. In 2017 it will be the 20th anniversary of festival. On days like this, tours of the castle are free of charge, so you can immerse yourself in the history and find out why that tower leans over so far. It’s great for big kids as well, even adults are allowed to dress up as knights and see how blacksmiths made swords.
I am very intrigued with local history, especially on the day to day lives of people. This is very evident throughout the castle, with lists of daily duties and living conditions through the eras. I was also surprised on how many ‘famous’ names and historic figures were involved with the castle. At the beginning of the 15th century it was attacked by Owain Glyndwr, the last native Prince of Wales, who took over the castle. In 1648 during the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s army caused great damage to the south east tower, so it now leans at a greater angle the more famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Growing up in Cardiff too, I’d heard a lot about the Marques of Bute who heavily invested and regenerated the area. He also acquired Caerphilly Castle, with his decedents overseeing the building work.
2. Newbridge Memo
The Grade II listed building is in the heart of Newbridge, which was built by the local miners in 1904, with the Memorial Hall added on 1924, and was modernised in 2014. With an art deco ballroom and auditorium the venue provides weekly events from watching the Six Nations on the big screens to theatre productions, quiz nights and concerts. There is also a library and reading rooms, and weekly children’s courses. The Manic Street Preachers lead singer James Dean Bradfield used to work there in the 1980’s, fuelling his love of music. In the 1970’s and 80’s famous bands such as Iron Maiden, Dire Straits, The Stranglers and The Cars played here. More recently it has been used as a backdrop to film BBC’s Doctor Who and Sherlock.
I’ve been very lucky to have a behind the scenes tour of the Memo. It gives you a very historic feel of why the minors wanted and needed this building, adding on the memorial Hall as a mark of remembrance for those who were lost during World War I. It also gives a real sense of the community – as it was then and now. The team also have a fantastic collection of old tour posters and programs.
3. Parc Cwm Darran
This is a very tranquil country park that feels like it is a million miles away from civilization. You can walk or cycle through woodland and along lakeside paths. The lake is manmade, and is actually an old quarry when the area was used for mining. You can also visit the Powder Store, part of the former Ogilvie Colliery. In some areas you could also fish, and camp from Spring to Autumn with electric hook-ups, hot showers and washing up facilities. There is even an audio trail that talks through the history of Parc Cwm Darran including the importance of coal during the industrial revolution. As well as the café there are a lot of picnic benches and grassy banks to enjoy the scenery. My favourite part of the walk is the hidden gem – the waterfall. Not only is the area tranquil, the view is spectacular.
4. Llancaiach Fawr
I’ve always been fascinated by The Tudor’s, and started my family ancestry hoping to find that I was related in some way to Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. At Llancaiach Fawr it is a time warp, you can step into a fully restored Tudor Manor House which is furnished as it would have been in 1645 – including characters in traditional dress. It’s a Grade I listed building, and is thought to have been built on the site of an earlier medieval structure. It was the home of Colonel Edward Prichard when King Charles I visited on 5th August 1645 (which is why the house has been set up for this moment in time). The Colonel was appointed as one of the Commissioners for the King, raising money and men for the Royalist cause. Shortly after the King’s visit The Colonel’s family changed sides to support Parliament, The Cavaliers, where he was appointed Governor of Cardiff Castle and was commended for his consistency during the battle of St Fagans.
Phew, history lesson over! There is more to the site than the historic elements including dinners, functions and events that are held here throughout the year. One of the most popular events are the Ghost Tours. Llancaiach Fawr has been named in the top ten haunted locations in the UK, with many TV programmes being recorded here including Most Haunted. Visitors and members of staff tell tales of odd events, all believing the site is haunted. I am a bit sceptical, but thoroughly enjoyed a tour as nearly every room has a scary story attached to it. The walk through the building was definitely eerie, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. My friend however thought she felt a child tugging on her skirt. On one of my business meetings here, a member of staff told me she often hears children giggling when there is absolutely no one around. Now this makes my spine tingle…
5. Rock UK – Summit Centre
The Summit Centre is built on the site of the former Trelewis drift mine, which closed in the 1980’s, and used to be called the Welsh International Climbing Centre. The indoor climbing walls are up to 18 metres high, and the instructor told me that there are about 180 different routes. There are outdoor pursuits too, with mountain biking, walking, canoeing and kayaking. Plus a man-made caving system with a waterfall inside.
Not being very adventurous, I went to a group session learning to climb. The instructors make you feel at ease by laughing and joking with everyone and it’s clear that they enjoy their jobs. They were very patient and took the time to explain techniques. They were also able to support those who were able to pick it up more quickly too. Climbing is a great for toning the entire body; from back, arms, shoulders and legs plus fingers and toes.
6. Parc Penallta
You’ll find locals walking their dogs, cyclists out for a ride, some out for fresh air with the children or those out for a run. There are a few trails for visitors to explore the wildlife through woodland and grasslands. The park also has a lot of sculptures to find, as well as an audio trail for children. There is also two fishing lakes, which is popular throughout the year. With two car parks to choose from; the upper car park is best with those who have limited mobility, as you can keep mostly to the flat. It’s somewhere all ages can appreciate.
Just a ten minute drive from Bryn Meadows, I often advise guests looking to go for an afternoon or evening walk to visit here. This is another destination that has been created from a former coal pit. The views across Caerphilly from the High Point Observatory are spectacular. Plus, you won’t be able to miss Sultan the pit pony, one of the UK’s largest earth sculptures – which is really impressive from a distance and up close.
Katrina Rohman is the Sales & Marketing Assistant Manager at Bryn Meadows Golf Hotel & Spa as well as a board member for several local charities. Starting her career in radio before moving into events, she specialises in advertising, communications, marketing and PR. When not in work you’ll find her cheering on the Cardiff Blues with her partner Michael, or at Cardiff City with her father. Also known to indulge in a cider or two, and a bit of a fanatic foodie. Enjoys traveling especially city breaks, and has a countdown to Christmas from the 1st January.